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Joey Ramsden

The Sporting Post interviews the original 'King Of Pain'


Joey and King Of Pain

Joey and King Of Pain

Former Cape champion Joey Ramsden is one of South Africa’s top trainers and ranks amongst the most charismatic and straightshooting characters in the game. He saddles the recent Gr1 Gold Challenge winner King Of Pain as topweight in the Durban July on Saturday.

The one-time British boy band member speaks about why he won’t be giving jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe any riding instructions, the trauma of parting with his dual SA Horse Of The Year Variety Club and why he has so few friends within the industry in this country.

What is your name and do you have a nickname?

Joey Ramsden. They call me ‘JR’ or ‘Rambo’. And probably a few other names too.

How old are you?

45 years young

The birth of your lovely daughters Holly and Zara must have changed your lifestyle?

Having two of the most beautiful little girls and something to work for is a huge challenge.

My job involves endless travelling which makes having a balanced family life extremely difficult at times, not just for the children but for my wife, Fee, as well. It is difficult on her and she copes extremely well.

I am probably the one who finds the travelling the hardest to cope with but the girls make it all worthwhile.

What hobbies do you pursue?

I used to play golf to a reasonable standard but stopped for a while. I hope to start again in the spring as I enjoy the camaraderie, betting and sledging. I have also just bought a reasonable bicycle and having done the Argus Cycle Tour (many years ago) in a reasonable time, would like to get going with that again.

However, I think the Argus might be a step too far at this stage.

Your Dad Jack and Stepmom Lynda were both involved in the racing game. Did they trigger your interest?

I have always been interested in horses and ponies and was a keen member of the pony club where I competed at a reasonable level in show- jumping and eventing teams.

Watching Red Rum win three Grand Nationals and run 2nd was probably what really got me into the  racing game. I had always fancied being a bloodstock agent and on meeting the legendary Jack Doyle at Doncaster one day, I knew that the racing game was something I wanted to be involved in.

Channel 4's Emma Spencer is Joey's sister

Channel 4’s Emma Spencer is Joey’s sister

You have a well-known sister in horseracing. Please tell us what she does.

Emma has a good following in the UK and really enjoys being one of the co-presenters for the Channel 4 Racing. She does an exceptional job.

You have a passion for music.  What do you listen to and can you clarify rumours that you were once a member of a British Boy Band? 

I love music and have an extremely wide and varied collection, probably not to the majority of people’s taste. I was a member of a boy band and things were going extremely well, to the point of a record deal. However, the lure of 4 legs, ears and a nose and the thought of being penniless for the rest of my life was just too much to resist in the end!

What is your pet hate in life?


You were a guest at Epsom recently. How would you rate the experience as opposed to what you can expect at the July?

Being invited by Mr Bernard Kantor and Investec to the Epsom Derby is a once in a lifetime experience. The hospitality, camaraderie and levels of food, racing and excellence is something to behold and I am extremely fortunate to have had this privilege a couple of times.

The atmosphere at Epsom is totally electric and the race itself is like no other in the world. It was an extremely tough tractor ride for both horse and jockey and it was wonderful to see a really good one win it this year.

July day is a little bit different, with a lot more racing, but it is good to see so many people on course and some of the outrageous and ludicrous fashions.

With the Epsom experience in mind, have you and your three July day runner’s owners been well treated in terms of hospitality for Saturday?

Gill Simpkins is excellent at keeping me in the loop as to what is on offer. I have not been contacted yet but I am sure I will be.

The July field announcement and the confidentiality aspect was treated rather casually we believe. Was it handled professionally, in your opinion?

The field announcement was handled extremely professionally and I am sure it was a big secret. But maybe, in the end, too much of a predictable secret.

Joey And Fee and a perfect parking spot for the races at Epsom

Joey And Fee and a perfect parking spot for the races at Epsom

How do you rate King Of Pain’s prospects in the July on Saturday?

King of Pain acts on fast and soft ground and stays 2000m and more.

He has shown he can race from off the pace and go up with the pace, which is a good thing. I was not tactically astute enough in the Met as for some obscure reason I thought they would go a good gallop and they didn’t. I do not intend to be so naive this year!

Will you be giving the King’s jockey Bernard Fayd’herbe instructions?

Bernard and instructions go together a little bit like oil and water!

Bernard knows King of Pain extremely well. We will obviously have a chat about the horse and what is best but in the end when you have someone that good, you have to trust them entirely and leave it up to them, which is exactly what I will be doing.

The Big Screen July fashion theme lends itself to vast options. The word is out that you are you going as Alfie Moon, James Bond or Austin Powers?

Eastender’s Alfie Moon? A barman and fish and chips salesman is hardly appealing. James Bond. Mmmm, now that is slightly better but I have not yet got the parking pass for the Aston Martin so might have to turn that down.

Austin Powers – yeah baby! But I think Gold Circle director, John Bescoby, might have got that one covered and there is nothing worse than two of you wearing the same outfit to an event!

Variety Club

Variety Club while preparing for his Goldolphin Mile Challenge

On a more serious note, losing a champion like Variety Club must have been a bitter pill to swallow. Was it an amicable decision all round?

Obviously losing Variety Club leaves a huge hole, not just in our stable, but in our lives as well.

Everyone was extremely attached to him, including my wife, Fee. No matter which way you look at it, it was extremely difficult and heartsore to watch him move on, especially as finding another one like him is not going to be easy.

However, we live in hope and he is what we are looking for at every sale. The plan was always for him to go to Europe and with my main business being in Cape Town and having a string in KZN, it would have been extremely difficult for me to juggle everything.

Racing in South Africa is well run. True or less true?

Phumelela do the most fantastic job. The reason for this is that they are answerable and have to produce positive results. They have a sharp team exploring every single avenue of the betting experience. They are visible and active and make their presence felt.

I think they are doing an exceptional job.

What does the Racing Association mean to your business as a trainer of champions with high-profile owners?

I do not have a lot to do with the racing association. Whilst I am a member, for me they are an organisation where, if I need something clarified or need information, they are an organisation I can approach. As of yet, I have had no need to.

I certainly enjoy receiving higher stake cheques for Racing Association days, though!

Brothers In Arms. Mike De Kock and Joey Ramsden

Brothers In Arms. Mike De Kock and Joey Ramsden

You have never been scared to call a spade a spade. Do you find that you have many friends in the industry, as a result of it?

(At this point JR aka Rambo, laughs out loud…)

It is exceptionally hard to have friends involved in the racing game as we are all chasing the same piece of pie. The pie, sadly, is not the same size as it used to be and thus this game is very, very competitive.

The pool of owners has also got smaller and it is a tough industry, mainly due to the lack of an export market to get people interested and investing.

Ultimately many of our businesses overlap in many respects. I do have a few friends in the industry but many more of my friends are out of the industry and out of the country.

In the UK, many of the trainers are extremely good friends but it is a completely different ball game over there compared to our incestuous pot here –and I really do mean this respectfully.

It is also very tough maintaining friends whilst entertaining owners and trying to balance family life and be a good father – all at the same time.

Your Blog is very popular. Has it been a success in terms of marketing and do you find that it becomes a pain in the neck at times?

I don’t think it has been a success in terms of marketing.

Regarding it being a pain in the neck: no never! The only time it is a pain is trying to find the time to write it.

It is a bit like writing one’s autobiography. Sadly, 99.99% of the time they are dreary and drab because the person recounting it cannot afford to tell the truth in many ways, possibly on a personal level and more likely on a business level, of what he perceives to be out there. Doing the blog is certainly a case of that.

I find it difficult to keep it interesting and amusing without getting people’s backs up too. I have many people telling me I should not do the blog as it is not good for my business, yet other people say I should do it. It is sometimes tough to decide whether I should do it or not. I certainly enjoy doing the blog.

There is an awful lot going on out there which should be talked about but, sadly, the racing community can be a touchy and humourless bunch, as I have found on numerous occasions.

Joey and Fee in Mauritius

Joey and Fee in Mauritius, No mention of retirement yet

You must have a short-term goal of sorts going ahead. Can you share it with our readers?

As mentioned earlier, the pool is getting smaller and tougher to swim in.

My goal is to keep going, to try and find new owners and to maintain the same numbers in my yard. But most importantly, to try and keep everyone happy, which is not always possible.

It is a competitive game but winners speak for themselves and big race winners – which is what really interests me – is what keeps me going.

Trying to find that next Variety Club is like trying to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When you see one, even at 45, you want to be out there trying to find the end of it.

Having said that, trying to bring up two balanced young ladies goes hand in hand with the question.

Are you looking ahead at retirement yet? When and where will that be in an ideal world?

Retirement? What is that?

It is impossible and certainly not on my mind at the moment. I am lucky in that my great friend, Peter Fenix, looks after that side of things for me. He will tell you that there is no fear of putting on the slippers yet.

Until export becomes a reality there will only be one trainer capable of retiring in this country and you do not need to be a rocket scientist to work out who that is!

And whilst he is hugely successful in SA, he is certainly not able to retire on those earnings alone, which makes sleeping at night extremely tough. If I am lucky enough to retire whilst still breathing, it will be without a shadow of a doubt in Cape Town.

The UK, for 3 or 4 months during the summer, with all its superb sporting coverage and sometimes good weather, would be a tough place to avoid visiting during that time. However, that is all pie in the sky for now.

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